WASHINGTON -- Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) said Wednesday that the fact that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas voted this week to gut the Voting Rights Act -- the 1965 law aimed at protecting disenfranchised voters -- ranks him somewhere below the likes of Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked classified information about U.S. surveillance programs to the press.
"Comparing it to Snowden, I'd say the offense is worse," Johnson told The Huffington Post.
Johnson, who is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, said Snowden was wrong to leak top-secret materials to the media but was also "mistaken" in thinking that NSA's activities were illegal. By contrast, Thomas, who is black, is "legally aware of the consequences" to the black community of striking down a core piece of the Voting Rights Act, Johnson said, yet he did it anyway.
"He consciously repeats those same steps over and over again to the detriment of the African-American community," Johnson said of Thomas' conservative voting record.
Members of the CBC are among those outraged by the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling in the case. Several gave speeches on the House floor on Thursday to express their disapproval and to urge Congress to take action to restore the law. Civil rights hero and longtime congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.) said Wednesday that the court "put a dagger in the heart of the Voting Rights Act."
Johnson said caucus members have gotten used to Thomas casting conservative votes that may be harmful to the black community. "We don't waste time sitting around talking about Clarence Thomas," he said. "Everybody knows it's a deep tragedy."
Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), also a member of the CBC, was present in Selma, Ala., during the 1963 civil rights efforts that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act. He called the effect of the court's ruling on the black community "ghastly." Still, he said he wasn't surprised by Thomas's vote.
"Is there anyone more conservative than him on the court?" he asked. "I feel that his philosophy has led him to that position. There's no way that I could be shocked."
Conyers said he knows Thomas personally, but only chuckled when asked what he would say to the justice about his vote.
"Please," he said with a smile as he walked away.